There are fears that the athletes of erstwhile FATA may be affected after its merger with KP
Following the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for the first time a joint contingent of these areas will be fielded in the 33rd National Games which will be held in KP from October 26 to November 1. This will really make KP stronger as a unit.
KP Olympic Association’s president Aqil Shah the other day told me that no injustice would be made with the athletes of the tribal districts. He said that fair opportunities would be provided to all athletes of the belt and hopefully 30 percent of the KP contingent for the Games would comprise athletes from the tribal districts. The agencies of the area have been converted into seven districts: Mohmand, Bajaur, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurrum, North Waziristan and South Waziristan.
How to do justice with this merger? It is a big question and there does not seem to be an easy way. There are still fears that the athletes of this area may be affected after its merger with KP. And a strong reaction is expected from senior workers of former FATA Olympic Association. They feel that the region should stay alone and administer its own sports so that the enormous talent it has in various sports disciplines could be safeguarded properly.
Former FATA Olympic Association’s president Shahid Shinwari is not happy with the development. He intends to fight against the step. "We want to stay alone," Shahid told ‘The News on Sunday’ from Makkah in an interview. "The tribal belt has great talent which remained hidden until FATA Olympic Association was formed in 2011 and got affiliated with the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA). The belt produced athletes of national and international calibre. They also got jobs in various departments. They got opportunities and a platform in the shape of FATA Olympic Association. But this platform was snatched from them. The main reason behind this was that FATA had more activities and those had overshadowed the activities of KP and some people could not tolerate the great progress of the tribal belt. This talent again is being wasted. I said this several times in meetings but the POA said that talent of the tribal belt would not be wasted," Shahid said. "Recently in Punjab Games not a single athlete of FATA took part. In these Games those people of KP who have stuck to various seats went themselves and not a single player from the tribal belt went to these Games. This proves that talent of the area is being wasted," Shahid said.
"We were told that in KP’s various associations’ elections, members of the tribal belt associations would be involved. Elections of different associations of KP were held including tennis and cycling but so far we have not been informed by anyone about these elections. It is a big question. What type of merger is this?" Shahid questioned.
"We had been promised by the POA during its general council meeting that we would get proper seats because we have worked. The way the system is being run makes me feel that they don’t want those who are working. When I return to Pakistan after performing Umrah we will assemble our people and will meet Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mehmood Khan and Sports Minister Atif Khan. We don’t want that those people who have stuck to various seats for the last 20 to 25 years hijack the system and affect the youth of the tribal belt. Problems will come, I know. But it would be good if they wholeheartedly accommodated those people of the tribal belt who have sincerely worked," Shahid said.
"I had a detailed meeting of two hours and ten minutes with Ehsan Mani. He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan does not want the sports of tribal belt to be affected. Imran wants tribal belt to be further backed in sports and given more opportunities. They should remain as separate region. As you see cricket is still a separate region," he said.
"I will also convey this message to Imran Khan. We will use all the legal ways for safeguarding the rights of the athletes of the tribal region. I hope the PTI government will do justice with the tribesmen," he said.
The best way to establish a joint administrative set-up is to hold elections in all districts (both KP settled and tribal districts), and of provincial associations before the KP Olympic Association’s elections. Although this would be an untimely step, it would pave way for a viable settlement.
Now we come to the 33rd National Games. The biennial spectacle has finally been shifted to KP from Quetta. KP officials claim they are capable of holding the Games in October. The credit goes to Aqil Shah and the KP government who seem to be on the same page. They are also set to invite Afghanistan and a few other nations to add to the beauty of the competitions.
Athletes and units always take this event extra-seriously. Departments also promote athletes on the basis of their performances in National Games.
The Games are also a platform for talented youth of federating units to impress departmental officials with their talent. Many are recruited by departments.
The Games are very important for those athletes who are aiming to represent Pakistan in the 13th South Asian Games (SAG), slated to be held in Nepal from December 1-10. Soon after featuring in National Games the athletes will re-assemble in their national camps to resume their SAG preparation.
It had been expected that National Games would be held near the end of September, which would have provided at least two months to athletes for SAG preparation.
But due to various reasons, including World Beach Games to be held in early October, the last week of October was chosen.
Interestingly, POA’s president Lt Gen (retd) Arif Hasan has advised the hosts to spread the Games in the whole of KP. It would administratively not be that easy but it is in itself a very good idea. If Mardan, Abbottabad, Charsadda and some tribal districts host some events it will create harmony in the province. The KP government has allocated a decent budget of Rs170 million for the Games which will help improve the soft image of the province which was shattered during the last few years because of terrorism.
The unique aspect of the extravaganza will be the torch relay which will begin its journey from Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi and going through Quetta, Lahore, other cities of Punjab, Islamabad, Bab-e-Khyber, Torkham reach Peshawar.
This will be the seventh time that KP will be holding the spectacle. KP has a glorious record of hosting such events in the most befitting way. One of the major reasons behind it is that it has state-of-the-art infrastructure which the province has developed over the years. It would not be wrong to say that KP has the second best sports infrastructure in the country after Islamabad‘s Pakistan Sports Complex.
Before going for National Games, the POA should resolve the issues of the disputed federations and associations so that athletes do not suffer.